Sunday, November 30, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2005 Mets

A couple of weeks ago, I went picking through the History Books and brought you my Mets team capsule from 2003. This week, I have dug into the great, lost Archive (which doesn't actually go back that far) and bring you yet another historical Team Capsule, this time from the year 2005.

It's been mentioned here before, that 2005 was sort of like the preamble to the current era of the Mets. Although they were billed as "The New Mets," a phrase brought to us by Carlos Beltran, they were really a mixture of the junk leftover from the Phillips/Duquette regime (and Mike Piazza) and the new faces that Omar Minaya had brought in to try to create some excitement following several down years. The team had some bright new faces, but an overabundance of question marks and several holes, particularly in the right side of the infield and the bullpen (sound familiar?). Too many band-aids were used in favor of actual tangible solutions, and though there were some tantalizing moments, the Mets would ultimately fade out at the end of the season. As usual, this capsule was written shortly after the Mets were eliminated from the Wildcard race, and is presented to you unabridged and unedited. Current comments in italics.
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With the Mets now officially eliminated, and the season coming to an end in a few days, and with all the e-mails flying around, it is now time for me to offer for the consideration of you all my annual Mets Team Capsule for 2005.

The 2005 Mets were uneven at best. There were hot streaks that were short-lived, and cold spells that came and went. The team hovered around .500 all season, basically living up to the expectations placed before them. Thing was, just about everyone else in the NL was hovering as well, and so the Wildcard never slipped too far out of reach. The team played well at home, although rarely in games that El Guapo and I went to, and poorly on the road (I believe my record for the season was 7-11. Far too often, it seemed, I would be going to games where the Mets just showed up because the schedule said they had to). But they always kept it interesting. And then they went to Arizona and San Francisco, and the bats lit up and the pitching was holding together, and all of a sudden, we were looking at meaningful games in September…And then the bottom fell out just as quickly (If you recall, the Mets went to Arizona in late August and absolutely pasted them in a 4-game sweep where they outscored the D-Backs 39-7. They came home and beat Philly on a late Castro HR, and were closing in on the Wildcard, and then they basically just fell apart). But just when it looked like the Mets would unravel completely as they did in the Uncle Art years, the Mets pulled it together and kicked some teams like Florida and Philly in the nuts, so that at least they wouldn’t get to the playoffs either (This was scant consolation, but at least Willie made sure they played out the string).

Overall, you have to think that they performed as expected. We didn’t think much more than .500, but then the team did just enough to entice us into believing there could be more. But that didn’t happen. There are still holes in the team that need to be filled, and questions that need to be answered before the team can make The Leap. The offseason will hold quite a bit.

Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for:

MANAGER
Willie Randolph – C+
Maybe I’m being a little tough on Willie. After all, it was his first year, and overall, he did OK. But that’s all he did. OK. He kept the team together, and they all played for him. But he showed his inexperience as a manager, and I think it was an issue most of the season. He botched the double switch in Cincinnati, he never got fired up, he insisted on keeping the same lineup, burying Wright down in the order most of the season, and don’t even get me started on the Bullpen. I do not, however, overlook the importance of how Willie got the team to rally around each other all season. It’s key, and hopefully the nucleus of the team will continue to grow together and the new parts will meld. But next season will be telling as to whether or not Willie will lead the team to the next level. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. (As we would see, Willie was able to lead the team to the next level in '06, but it seemed like once he got there, he forgot what he had done to get him there. It's unfortunate, but Willie never really was able to finish the job he started.)

CATCHERS
Mike Piazza – B+
In all honesty, we couldn’t have expected much more from Mike this season. The years of catching have caught up with him, and as we learned from Gary Carter, once you fall off, you don’t come back, especially as a Catcher. But through it all, and through the uncertainty surrounding where he’ll be next year, Mike performed as he always had, with class and dignity and he still came up with a few big hits. And, guess what, he leads the NL in HRs and RBI by a Catcher.

With all that said, and again, we don’t know whether or not he’ll be back next year, but it is indeed time to take a step back and look at Mike’s place in History with the Mets and over his entire career. You can’t help but think about how May 22nd, 1998 will go down as a monumental day in Mets History, as the Mets acquired Piazza, and in turn, Piazza became one of the most important and beloved players the team has had. In addition to putting some fear into a lineup that, at the time, had Butch Huskey as its big power threat, he also brought credibility and excitement to a team that had spent most of the 1990s in a fog. And although in 1998, the team fell short, Mike was convinced that he wanted to spend the prime of his career in New York, and with the Mets. And in 1999 and 2000 he put the team on his back and carried them, willing them to wins time and again, battling through a thumb injury in the 1999 playoffs that likely would have put him on the DL had it not been the postseason, and though he struggled, he nailed a HR off Smoltz in the 6th game that erased deficits of 5-0 and 7-3, tied the game, and extended the game (and we don’t need to discuss the end), only coming out when he physically could not play any further. And remember how frustrated he was when that series ended? He ended up getting in his car and driving around the South for 3 weeks just to clear his head from all of it. And in 2000, he was the driving force behind what would be the hottest team in Baseball throughout the Summer, deserving of an MVP before a September swoon. But he rebounded in the playoffs, blasting a couple of key HRs vs. St. Louis, and leading the team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium when they won the NLCS. Or perhaps his most poignant moment, the HR against Atlanta in the first game back after 9/11. I remember being at that game and how the crowd went from listless to jubilant with the crack of his bat. Sure, 02, 03 and 04 were bad years, and Mike battled through a lot of injuries, and an ill fated position switch, but Mike kept his date with destiny when he broke Fisk’s HR record for Catchers and extended it through this season. (I'd lionized Piazza even back then. I had a feeling that too many people in my circle had gotten down on him after he'd had a few down years, but you can't ever overlook what he meant to the team. He made the Mets important again.)

I guess you could name them on one hand, impact players that took the Mets to another level. Guys like Seaver, Hernandez, perhaps Strawberry. Maybe Mike didn’t bring home a Championship, but even falling short, he couldn’t have brought us much more. Truly the greatest Met we have ever seen, and someday soon we’ll see his #31 hang in the left field corner in Shea. (This was, of course, when Bankruptcy Field was but a gleam in Fred Wilpon's beady eye.)

Ramon Castro – A
Castro shined all season in a backup role, and came up with a number of clutch hits. But he struggled offensively when he was pressed into a starting role. I wouldn’t count on him as the full time starter next year, which is why I’m a fan of, if Piazza will re-sign for a reasonable price, having them split time at C. Solid D all around. Also wins the award for the largest head in Mets history (This was before he'd proven himself incapable of staying healthy for a full season.).

Mike DiFelice – Because the Mets needed to fill their dirtbag thug quota for the season. Fortunately, he never played.

INFIELDERS
Doug Mientkiewicz – D
I’m disappointed. I really expected Dougie to have a better season. But his average was in the low .200s all season, although he did pop a few HRs here and there. His D was solid, but not the spectacular level he displayed in Minnesota. Also griped a little bit late when he was losing playing time, although he really didn’t deserve it (The playing time, not the lack thereof). Won’t be back.

Miguel Cairo – C
Cairo was great off the bench, but really spit the bit in a full-time role. He was able to cover it up playing in a loaded Yankee lineup but he was pretty bad and inexplicably continued to hit 2nd in the order. Even worse was his propensity to swing like he was trying to hit the ball off the Whitestone Bridge. We need a better full time 2B, but he’ll be good off the bench (Not sure where I was going with this. Cairo was .251/.296/.324 for the season and consistently looked terrible at the plate. I know he started because Matsui was either hurt or terrible, but even then, I can't believe I advocated keeping him after this season).

Kaz Matsui – F
Forget it. I worked with a fellow from Japan over the Summer, and when the show was over, I asked him if he could take Matsui back to Japan with him.

Jose Reyes – B+
As Fran Healy beat into our heads all season, “THE NEW YORK METS 22 YEAR OLD SHORTSTOP IS CREATING ALL KIND OF EXCITEMENT!” He really did too. Healthy for the first time in his career, Reyes was a major sparkplug, turning doubles into triples, and singles into doubles with his speed. Still needs to learn to work the count more, but I see no reason why he can’t do this. Also improving on Defense. If he can raise his walks and keep stealing bases, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while. Actually, either way, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while (We've since seen the best and worst from Reyes. He proved he could work a count, but this is a habit that seems to desert him at inopportune times).

David Wright – A-
The new face of the franchise. Period. Although his defense was spotty, he did tail off a bit late, and he took a number of good pitches, which only helped to solidify his reputation as a great 2-strike hitter, Wright’s first full season has to be regarded as a resounding success. Hit well over .300 for most of the season, over 20 HRs and close to 100 RBIs at age 22, and moronically buried at 6th or 7th in the order for the majority of the season. Has an uncanny ability to adjust to the situation while at the plate, and absolutely hammers mistake pitches. Once he matures, he’ll certainly hit higher in the order and a lot of those 2Bs will turn into HRs. Also plays defense with a reckless Lenny Dykstra-esque abandon, and will throw himself into the stands if he has to. He’s already the best pure hitter on the team, and you know he’s only going to bust his ass harder to get better as he continues. As I’ve said before, he stands a very good chance of breaking every meaningful Mets offensive record by the time he turns 30. I wouldn’t bet against him (I still wouldn't bet against him. He got his 100 RBI that season and has done so every year since. The numbers continue to go up, even if his failures have become more and more spectacular.).

Marlon Anderson – B
Lots of clutch pinch hits early on, plus a monumental inside-the-park HR off of Rodriguez in June. Fizzled out a bit when he, like Castro, was pushed into the starting lineup on a regular basis, but another one I really like coming off the bench (So they let him go and he was middling with Washington and LA. They brought him back in '07 and it was like he'd never left. So they retain him for '08 and he was horrible. Bottom line: What the hell do I know?).

Chris Woodward – B+
Woody was very much like Anderson. Came off the bench and played very well, and reminds us all of Super Joe, except that he can hit a little bit more.

Jose Offerman – D
El Guapo and I were at a game against Atlanta in July, and with Wright on 3rd, 2 outs, Atlanta up 3-2 and the pitchers spot coming up, we expected a pinch hitter. George says to me, “Who’s #35?” I reply. “Jose Offerman.” I then see him walking to the plate. “GOOD GOD, JOSE AWFULMAN!” Jose promptly shut me up by nailing a single to tie the game. That was pretty much it for Jose, who stuck around and played far more often than he ever should have been allowed to. Bonus points for pulling the idiot play of the season and running back to first on a rare Kaz Matsui single against Washington, with the crowd yelling “GO, GO, GO,” and El Guapo and I gouging our eyes out (That play might have been one of the single worst things I've ever witnessed on a ballfield. Matsui hit a clean single up the middle, so Offerman ran back to first and was thrown out at 2nd by 30 feet. That summed up the 2005 Mets.).

Mike Jacobs – A-
Sweet Swingin’ Jacobs came up and lit everyone on fire during the week in Arizona. Then he came back to earth and Willie then decided we would all be better off with the platoon system of Marlon Anderson and Jose Offerman at 1B, while Jacobs sat the bench. Finally, he played and did well again. Unless we get a bigtime gun at 1B, Jacobs deserves a real long look there (IE dealing him to Florida for Carlos Delgado). He’s going to play winter ball and work exclusively at 1B to improve his defense. I like his future (Still do, but he's another 100K season away from becoming a left handed Dave Kingman).

Brian Daubach – This would be the equivalent of the Red Sox calling up Roberto Petagine to solidify their bench. I wouldn’t trust Daubach to solidify anything except maybe a bowl of jello (Someone in my circle was really upset by this remark, and gave me a long speech about how Daubach could help the team, he just needed the chance to do so. I'm still waiting.).

Anderson Hernandez – I’d like to say he could go somewhere with the team except that Willie seems to refuse to play him (He did go somewhere. That somewhere was Washington).

OUTFIELDERS
Carlos Beltran – C-
True, the expectations on him were ridiculously high. And true, there was no way he was going to hit like he did in the Commie AL and in Houston and their ballpark on steroids. But still, Beltran never put together a solid offensive string. He showed signs of breaking out of it, and then would go 0-4 the next night. His clutch hits were too few and far between, and all too often, he would look meek in key spots. However, I point to one past case where a marquee player came to the Mets, struggled in key spots in his first year, pressed a lot, and was booed. He then came back the following year, settled down and posted a few monster seasons in a row. That was Mike Piazza. Maybe Beltran won’t put up Piazza numbers, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t rebound in a big way next season. Then again, I still have Baerga/Alomar nightmares…(He's been OK since then.)

Cliff Floyd – A-
Cliff is like the Corey Dillon of MLB. For years, Dillon was stuck as the lone good player on some awful Cincinnati teams and complained about it. He got a rap as a headache. Then he went to New England, won, and was highly regarded as a great clubhouse presence. Cliff is the same way. Injuries and bad teams over the past couple of years led Cliff to voice his displeasures. But healthy for the first time in years, and hitting at an unconscious pace early on, and Cliff won everyone back. True, he probably hit his ceiling this season, and true, he was very streaky, but now we know what he’s capable of if he’s healthy and protected in the lineup (notice how he hit a lot better with Wright behind him as opposed to Piazza/Mientkiewicz/Shemp) (Turned out that this was really Floyd's last hurrah. He was injured in '06 and by the end of the season looked like he was pretty much past it. Still, I was pretty sad to see him go and part of me has to think that he could have at least matched the production we got from Moises Alou, and probably would have played the same number of games.).

Mike Cameron – B
Mike had some marginally productive months in a season bookended by injuries, and ended by the ghastly collision in San Diego. He started off hot, then cooled, but he kept his strikeouts down, and performed well hitting out of the #2 spot. Still, may be the odd man out in a crowded OF, and could very well be dealt. But I wouldn’t be too upset if he were back (Cameron was dealt for Xavier Nady in November in what was essentially a salary dump and by Opening Day 2006, I'd actually forgotten that he was ever with the team. That's how much of an impression Mike Cameron made on me in his 2 years with the team.).

Victor Diaz – B-
I’m not 100% sold on Diaz yet. He reminds me a lot of Pedro Cerrano from Major League. He will absolutely hammer fastballs, but he can’t hit a damn breaking ball to save his life, and he has a knack for showing some horrendous bat control. And playing full time, this was exposed to the point of embarrassment. Started off on a tear, but after a few weeks, pitchers caught up to him, and then he bounced up and down, and rotted on the bench for a while until Cameron got hurt. This may also have been a problem as he never really got a chance to work out his problems. Also, suspect in RF, but as the season progressed, and once it was determined that he would indeed play RF for the long term, Diaz’s defense improved vastly over the latter part of the season, so that rather than gasping and covering your eyes on a fly to right, now, you merely just hold your breath. He should work on it in the offseason, and I agree with Gabe, once he knows that he’s going to be at a single position for a full season, and can relax, I think the full package will come around. The key for Diaz’s future is learning plate discipline and not throwing his bat at sliders off the plate. Once he does this, he certainly has some major upside (I really had a major hard-on for Victor Diaz. In retrospect, I'm not sure why.).

Eric Valent – Finally, management wised up and got rid of this lunkhead. I wish him luck in his future career in the car wash profession.

Gerald Williams – Ice man back with a brand new edition…

(And we brought him BACK?????????)

PITCHERS
Pedro Martinez – A
No, he wasn’t the dominant badass Pedro like he was in 99 and 2000, but we knew he wasn’t that pitcher anymore. I’ll admit, when the Mets signed him, I was very skeptical, but Pedro won everyone over pretty quickly with a blazing hot start and although he mixed good outings with bad, he would every so often whip off games like he did in LA and late in the season against Atlanta just to let you know he could still do it. He can’t throw 90 anymore, and on his bad nights he’ll barely crack 80, but so-so Pedro is a hell of a lot better than a lot of guys best stuff. And he is often symphonic on the mound because he’s such a smart pitcher, and he will often invent pitches on the spot, and throw them for strikes. His record would have been better, but half the time he got no run support, and the other half, Willie took his stupid pills and pulled him too early and the bullpen blew wins for him. Any talk of his imminent demise was obviously premature and I see no reason why he won’t be the same next year. Another big bat and a better bullpen and he wins 17-20 easily (Or he gets hurt. I still maintain that this was a risk/reward signing that the Mets had to make at the time.).

Tom Glavine – B
Languishing at midseason, Glavine somehow managed to reinvent himself and become a productive starter again. For the first time in as long as I’ve been watching him, Glavine actually IMPROVED in the 2nd half. Some early season bombings may still leave him with some ugly numbers, but for the most part, he pitched well and kept the team in a number of games, usually falling up short because of a lack of offense (a recurring theme).

Kris Benson – C-
Well, Kris made me look pretty brilliant early on with a string of great outings, and then for some reason inexplicably hit a wall in the 2nd half and made me look really stupid. For most of the season, I expected, and usually got a solid outing, 7IP, 2-3runs, 6-7 hits, 5 Ks, and a win. Then he just got hammered routinely in August and September. I don’t know what happened. Maybe Anna stopped putting out for him (I think it's safe to say that the Mets have gotten the better of this particular divorce.).

Victor Zambrano – C-
I think we can all say definitively now that, whether or not Kazmir does anything, that this was an absolutely asinine deal. When Zambrano pitched at Shea, they would play U2s “Vertigo” when he warmed up. And it was fitting, because he would give you vertigo every time he pitched. He was like Doug Sisk as a starter. He would get an out, walk, another out, a hit, and then one of two things would happen: He would get the strikeout, or he’d give up a long hit. And you could never be sure which. It’s like a passion play. You know that eventually, the shoe will drop. BUT, he willingly accepted a move to the bullpen, and never griped about it. But 10 minutes with Saint Rick Peterson was obviously not enough.

Aaron Heilman – A
Saint Rick went right with this one. Heilman came into the season as a major question mark, and will come away from it as either a future closer prospect or a fine mid-rotation starter. He changed his arm angle and somehow managed to resurrect his career. Also went through a long stretch in August and September without allowing a hit. Idiotically buried in the bullpen for most of the season, but he made the best of his opportunity and was actually one of the few people I could trust coming out of the bullpen (See, there was actually a point in time when Heilman was someone we wanted to see coming out of the bullpen. But remember, he also threw a 1-hitter as a starter that year, too.).

Kaz Ishii – F
Was there some earthly reason he was allowed to make 16 starts this season? Seriously. He would throw 4 shutout innings and then give up 6 runs in the 5th on a routine basis. And yet guys like Seo and Heilman were allowed to languish in no-mans land while this joker was throwing meatballs (I'm still steamed over those 16 starts.).

Jae Seo – B-
A true reclamation project, Seo basically came out of nowhere and reverted into the good Seo of 2003, and strung together a number of great outings. Before we get too excited though, remember that he tailed off late and he also shit the bed badly in 2004 after some success in ’03. I’d pencil him into the rotation, but he’s on thin ice (Seo would return as Duaner Sanchez in 2006. This worked for about half a season, but in reality, the deal was a wash.).

Roberto Hernandez – A-
A- simply for lasting out the season and pitching really well at age 63. After forgetting he was even in the league, he really carved out a niche for himself and had a great, solid season as a setup man. Still, I don’t know how much he has left, so we’ll see what next year holds, but with the way the bullpen looked at the beginning of the season, anything we got was gravy. And he gave us the gravy, the stuffing, the dressing, and the whole turducken (wait, I’m slipping into Madden-speak. Someone shut me up now).

Braden Looper – F
Successfully managed to combine the agita of the John Franco-era 9th innings with the slow sinking feeling of the Armando Benitez 9th innings. Also successfully became the first man in recorded history to blow 2 saves in one game. And this man had the audacity to come trotting into games with Trevor Hoffman’s “Hells Bells.” Wow. I mean, seriously. Wow. He made Benitez look kinda good (This is why we don't pitch hurt, kids. Further galled us with his behavior following the '06 NLCS) .

Heath Bell – C-
Pretty good mixed with embarrassingly bad and not much in between (Bell is similar to Dan Wheeler in the sense that Mets fans like to get all indignant because we gave these guys away and they turned out to be good in their new destinations. What we forget is that these pitchers were HORRIBLE WHEN THEY PITCHED FOR THE METS! Bell was 1-3 with a 5.59 ERA, 56H and 13BB in 46.2IP. Does this sound like the kind of pitcher you want on your team?).

Mike DeJean – F
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Manny Aybar – F
When I found out he made the club, I smashed my head into my desk repeatedly for 10 minutes. You can still see the scars (I really did, too).

Jose Padilla – A
A for being amazingly reliable coming out of the pen, which was a breath of fresh air considering the dreck that was routinely being trotted out there. Also wore ridiculous yellow goggles which you have to love. I’d like to see him as a key setup guy next year (One of those "whatif" guys. He had a good head for pitching and it was kind of a shame that he kept getting hurt. I think he would have been useful.).

Dae Sung Koo – F
Takashi Kashiwada would have been better than this dunce.

Steve Trachsel – B
B because he came back from a nasty injury and fought his way into a crowded rotation. Fizzled out with some bad starts but also had some good once. Probably won’t be back but I wouldn’t mind having him as a back end of the rotation guy.

Danny Graves – F
There was an article in the Mets program in July or August about how happy Graves was to be in New York, and how he was looking forward to being a key part in a playoff push. We’re still laughing about that (This was a testament to just how bad the bullpen was in '05. Minaya was so desperate for someone who could get guys out on a regular basis that he was bringing other teams castoffs. The sad thing is, if he'd done that in '08, it might have made a difference.).

Royce Ring – C
I guess he was OK, but again, he never pitched. I don’t know what he is.

Jose Santiago – How’d he end up here?

Mike Matthews – Huh?

Shingo Takatsu – His most memorable moment with the Mets was when Seaver referred to him as “Shinjo Takatsu.”

Felix Heredia – I would like to thank Felix for getting hurt and missing most of the season, and therefore sparing me from having to deal with him all season, because we all know Willie would have trotted him out there no less than 70 games had he been healthy, and good lord I don’t want to think about what that would have been like.

Tim Hamulack – See Royce Ring.

THE FUTURE
Really, there are two major holes. The offense needs a major bat in the middle of the order, and the bullpen needs to be fixed before I shoot myself in the head. The rotation is fine, I think we have 6 or 7 quality arms to work with. We know that Pedro, Glavine and Benson will be back, so Seo, Heilman, Trachsel and Yusmeiro Petit, and maybe even Gaby Hernandez (who did throw a no-hitter in A ball this season) deserve looks for the remaining 2 spots. Heilman, as I mentioned, could also be a closer candidate. I do not under any circumstances want to see Billy Wagner signed here. That is a disaster waiting to happen (For the most part, I was way off on this assessment. When Wagner came into the game on Opening Day in '06, El Guapo turned to me and said, "So, this is what it's like to have a real closer.).

We’ll likely need a Catcher, unless, as I hope but will probably not happen, Mike Piazza returns. I agree that Hernandez is a good option, but not a great one, he’d likely do no better than solidly balance with Castro. Any of the Flying Molina Brothers would be the same. But if this is the best we can hope for, so be it.

There is a lack of sexy free agents as a whole this offseason, so there will probably be several trades to be made. Shore up 1B, 2B and C on the offensive side. Everywhere else is fine. Retain the key bench players (Anderson, Cairo, Woodward). I still like the idea of bringing in Furcal at 2B, he and Reyes would be one fun 1-2 punch. 1B is a bigtime question mark. I like Overbay, but he looks very pedestrian if you take him out of Milwaukee and especially put him in Shea. He’d still likely hit a lot of 2Bs. If Durazo is signed I will react in a similar fashion to Manny Aybar and my head cannot take that kind of a beating anymore. True, Konerko is available, and I like him, but I don’t like the idea of sticking a hitter like him in Shea. A deal would likely have to be made, but again, please don’t do anything stupid. If we can get a player the caliber of a Soriano or Manny, which I have the feeling Minaya is probably going to push for, I would not complain.

Finally there is the Bullpen and this area was so blatantly and egregiously neglected last season, which is why the pen looked like an old sock at the beginning of the season. This cannot happen again.

True, my observations are terse and rehashed, and I’m not offering much in the way of solutions, but this is the state the Mets find themselves in. There are always holes, but for some reason, this season the way to fill these holes is not as blatantly obvious as it has been in the past. I’ll say it again. Just don’t do anything stupid or reactionary. Keep the key pieces in place and we’ll go from there…I hope.

(It was a lot easier to look to the Free Agent market for solutions. I really didn't know who, if anyone, would be on the trading block, and for the most part, the 2006 Mets were built on several shrewd and smart trades, where Minaya took spare parts and prospects and turned them into the pieces that would carry the 2006 Mets to the Postseason. Wagner was really the only big-ticket FA brought in; guys like Delgado, LoDuca, Maine and El Duque were brought in by trades. Otherwise, Omar basically just struck gold with a lot of non-tendered guys like Valentin, Chavez, Bradford and Oliver. Whatever it was, Omar found that right mix in '06. But to this point, the Mets haven't been able to build on that season's accomplishments. In fact, looking back on it now, it seems like the Mets have basically come back to where they were in 2005: A hole at Catcher, Question marks at 2B and RF, and Bullpen issues that border on embarrassment. )

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lost Classics: May 5, 2004

This was part of a 3-way tie for the winner of the Choose the Lost Classic for 2004 poll (Remember that? Took me long enough to get to it!).

At the beginning of the 2004 season, the New York Mets consisted of Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine and a bunch of other guys who wouldn't amount to much. Jose Reyes, the franchise future, was battling hamstring issues. The pitching staff was full of scrubs and retreads. In short, the franchise was headed nowhere fast.

Which is, more than likely, why I didn't attend my first game of the season until May 5th.

On May 5th, the Mets stood at a mediocre 11-15, in 4th place, 4 games behind whoever. It was just another one of those nondescript weekday night games I was so fond of attending. El Guapo was with me. It was a first of sorts for him. Having just moved to New York during the Winter, this was the first time he'd been to a Regular Season Mets game. His first trip to Shea, 4 years prior, produced a particularly memorable result. I reminded him, as we rode out to Shea, that not all games would turn out like that. In fact, this game would be similar in opponent only, as the Mets would take on the San Francisco Giants.

But, as it turned out, I would be wrong. This night would produce a particularly memorable result.

It was a damp Wednesday night, with a sparse crowd of 19,974 in attendance. At least that was the paid crowd. There may not have been that many people. Jae Seo, fresh off a passably marginal 2003 season, took the mound for the Mets, opposed by Jerome Williams for the Giants. Seo allowed a leadoff single to Brian Dallimore, then picked him off, before retiring J.T. Snow and Marquis Grissom to set the Giants down.

In the bottom of the first, Kaz Matsui and Todd Zeile both flied out. Mike Piazza followed.

Mike Piazza, now one of only four players remaining from the glory days of 1999 and 2000 (Joe McEwing, Al Leiter and John Franco the others; Todd Zeile was there, but he had shuffled between a few teams between then and now) was no longer the feared slugger he once was. That much was evdent. The years of Catching had begun to take their toll on Mike, and the talk was prevalent that he should move to First Base to try to prolong his career. Mike would have none of that. There was a record he was chasing. It was Carlton Fisk's record for HRs by a Catcher, 351. It would be Mike's destiny to make that record his own. His Hall of Fame ballot was certainly assured, however this record would surely make it unanimous. And he strode to the plate on this evening tied with Carlton Fisk at 351.

"Watch him break it here," I said to El Guapo.

Piazza had a habit of, more often than not, hitting a HR in my first game of the season. He'd done so in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Mike worked the count to 3-1 against Williams, then swung and belted a long, high drive out towards the scoreboard in Right Center. Fittingly, the Piazza Zone. I could tell it off the bat, and I threw my arms up and laughed. There, finally, was the record. The icing on the cake of a brilliant career. Mike kept his date with destiny and got a long, loud standing ovation. Well deserved, and well-earned.

"Mazel Tov. Now, grab that First Baseman's mitt, Mike." I said.

The major plotline of the night now put to bed, we sat back for the rest of the game. And things would get a little wet, and a little hairy before things finally settled themselves.

The Giants tied the game in the top of the 2nd. Jeffrey Hammonds drilled a double over Mike Cameron's head in Center and Edgardo Alfonzo, who got a standing ovation of his own...however only from El Guapo and Myself, followed with a sharp single back up the middle to score Hammonds.

The Mets, however, would strike right back, with Mike Cameron drawing a walk, Danny Garcia getting hit by a pitch, and Jae Seo dropping down a brilliant bunt, directly down the 3rd base line. Jerome Williams ran over to pick it up, spun and threw to first, and threw it away. Cameron scampered home on the error to give the Mets the lead.

It was already raining in the top of the 5th, and raining pretty good when Neifi Perez led off with a double, was sacrifieced to 3rd by Williams. Ricky Bottalico took over for Seo and promptly allowed a Sacrifice Fly to Dallimore. All of a sudden, now, the game was tied 2-2, with the weather deteriorating. After the Mets went down 1-2-3 in the last of the 5th, the grounds crew was summoned and the tarp was pulled on the field. Great. Rain Delay. And this was back when an official game that was tied and called was erased. What a burn. El Guapo and I stood in the ramps discussing this. We could only imagine what was going on in the mind of Fran Healy, he who loved to repeat things over and over again in his horrible warbling voice.

"He had to break the record...TWICE!" El Guapo yelled, doing his best Fran impression. We figured he would probably say this about 20 times. "He broke the record...TWICE!"

The Rain Delay continued on for an hour and 19 minutes, and about 134 repetitions of the phrase "He had to break the record...TWICE!" before things resumed. And with the top of the 6th underway and Bottalico taking the mound, I turned to El Guapo and said, "So I guess this means that Fran will say, 'He didn't have to break the record...TWICE!'"

No, he wouldn't. But the Mets still had to win the game. And as the bullpens took over, the game rapidly moved into the later innings. Bottalico got through the 6th in order. Tyler Walker retired the Mets in the bottom half. John Franco came in in the 7th and had a typical John Franco inning, replete with a walk, a full count and a strikeout, but no runs. Felix Rodriguez got the Mets in order in the bottom half. David Weathers took over in the 8th and got the Giants without any trouble. Now, things were getting a little restless. After the Rain Delay, it was beginning to get a little late, approaching 11pm. Rodriguez started the 8th by getting Matsui to strike out. Zeile singled, but Piazza's long drive to center died at the Warning Track. Felipe Alou came out and decided he would get cute, removing Rodriguez in favor of lefty Scott Eyre, as Karim Garcia came to the plate. This was the state of the 2004 Mets: Batting Cleanup, Karim Garcia, replete with "Low Rider" as his At-Bat music. The sign of a real winner, and a winning team. But Garcia persevered, punching a single to left-center to prolong the inning. Matt Herges was summoned to get the next batter, Shane Spencer. Herges, the Giants closer, was also supposed to shore up the pitching staff of El Guapo's Fantasy Team. He instead did a fabulous job of handing the game to the Mets. First, Spencer smashed a long drive to deep left-center, banging off the front of the bleachers and bouncing back onto the field. Grissom picked up the ball and fired it back in, but it was over the fence, a 3-run HR to give the Mets a 5-2 lead. Herges then walked Jason Phillips, then gave up another HR, this one a no-doubt bomb to Mike Cameron. That was it for Herges, as an indignant Alou removed him from the game, in favor of David Aardsma. Aardsma didn't fare so well either, hitting Garcia and then giving up hits to Eric Valent and Kaz Matsui, plating another run. All of a sudden, this squeaker had turned decidedly in the Mets favor, and when Orber Moreno came in and set the Giants down quietly, the Mets had an 8-2 victory, their 3rd win in a row, and Piazza officially had his HR Record.
The Mets would go on to win the following night on an 11th inning Walk-Off HR by Piazza, a much more dramatic blast than his record breaker turned out to be. But the record is the record. And he didn't have to break it twice, and he wasn't even getting a divorce. His record of 396 HRs as a Catcher stands to remain for quite some time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

John Madden Special

For me, nothing said Thanksgiving like John Madden. Every Thanksgiving, he would whip out this massive, mutant 6-legged turkey and break off the legs and give them to the players he felt performed the best in whatever Thanksgiving day game he was broadcasting.

Once Madden jumped ship to ABC and Monday Night Football, the Thanksgiving special and the Turkey Leg Award went with him. Now, Thanksgiving is personified by everyone's favorite, Joe Buck and his little robot turkey. It's not the same.

But I was thinking about Thanksgiving as I flipped on the Detroit/Tennessee game (which can be described simply as an epic crapfest), and I was thinking about Madden, and the year he abandoned the Turkey Leg Award in favor of what I believe to be the ultimate Madden food (and anyone familiar with Madden at all knows he can associate anything back to food), the Turducken.

This was on a Monday Night in 2002, if I'm not mistaken, an eminently forgettable game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly was blowing out San Francisco (Always the damn Philly team doing it to my teams), and so Al Michaels and Madden had a lot of time to kill. So, Madden starts waxing poetic about the Turkey Leg Award and I believe the description was something like this:

"Well, Al, you know, back when I was on the other network, we had the Thanksgiving Turkey, and that was good. And when you got your Turkey, you got your Turkey Leg. And so one year, I was in Dallas and I decided that I was going to give my Turkey Leg to the best player out there, and Reggie White got the first Turkey Leg Award. And that was good. So we had the Thanksgiving, and we had the Thanksgiving Turkey, and we had the Turkey Leg Award. And now, this year, we got the Turducken."

Cut to the booth. Madden is now standing in front of this ghastly looking loaf of meat.

"See, here's the Turducken. And when you got your Turducken, here's what you got."

Madden proceeds to rip open the Turducken with his bare hands. Al Michaels looks about ready to piss himself. Madden won't stop talking about the Turducken.

"See, look what you got here. You got your deboned duck. And then you got your dressing. And then, you stuff the duck inside a deboned chicken, and then you got more dressing. And then you take your deboned chicken and your deboned duck and your dressing, and you put that inside the deboned turkey, and that's how you got your Turducken. And this year, I'm going to start giving out the Turducken Award."

He then goes on to break down the Turkey and the Duck and the Chicken and the Dressing with the telestrator.

I missed the Sunday Night game with Madden last weekend, so I don't know if he's still giving out the Turducken award. But today, I discovered that someone decided to take this monstrosity one step further.
Get your defibrillators, folks, it's the TURBACONDUCKEN! Someone actually decided to wrap one of these things in bacon. I'd like to see John Madden pound one of these suckers.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2003 Mets

Last week, I mentioned that I was considering digging into my archives and digging up old Mets Report Cards that I had written, back in the days when I was simply circulating e-mails amongst friends. As the past few weeks have been rather quiet on the Mets front, I thought that now would be a good time to step into the proverbial wayback machine and take a trip back to a bygone era. This era being the year 2003. 2003 was, for the most part, a forgettable season, at least in the sense that we as Mets fans would prefer to forget it ever happened. The 66-95 Mets languished in last place in the NL East, an embarrassing 34.5 games out of first place. The end of the season was met with relief, more than anything else, since it meant that the Mets could no longer make us miserable. This capsule was written at or around the season's final weekend, and I present it to you here, unedited and unrestrained. Current footnotes are in italics.

----------------
Gents,

As the season draws to a close, it is time, once again, for my mass email grading of the Mets and their season. Unlike last season, certain people who root for another team occupying our City will not be receiving this email, and therefore will not subject us to his frontrunning rants. (In past seasons, I had included some Yankee fans on my e-mail list. This blew up into a bit of nastiness following the 2002 season, so I decided it better to not include them anymore) That said, let us begin...

SO as many of us surmised, it was mostly the same batch of noodnicks, plus a few new faces, gracing the field for the Mets on March 31, and they promptly picked up where they left off last season, bumbling about while the losses piled up and the payroll mounted. But then something happened. All these overpaid, overweight dunces started getting hurt, or complacent and traded, and at some point when nobody was paying much attention, the youth movement that we all thought the Mets needed so badly was happening. The team was graced with young, hungry Rookies who busted their asses on a daily basis, and although they took their lumps, they were, at the very least, fun to watch and we knew they were playing their hearts out. There were some bright moments, even a few wins, and suddenly, this began to look like a team that could, once again, lead the Mets to respect in 2004, and perhaps more in 05-06. (After 2002 and 2003, could I really be blamed for such wishful thinking?) Sure, there can always be improvements. But it is indeed clear that the 2003 Mets spent the season laying the foundation for the future, and I don't think anyone can argue that. (At least, not until many of the so-called prospects flopped in '04)

Now, the fun part.

MANAGER
Art Howe - C
Sure, it was a rocky first season for Howe, used to managing bright, up and coming prospects and now on a team of high priced players. Howe didn't exactly do the best in-game managing job, making some strange pitching moves and some equally strange offensive moves. By midseason, I was yearning for Bobby V. But, the veterans broke down, and the kids persevered. Now, however, he is back in a situation similar to what he had in Oakland: youth and inexperience. It will be interesting to see how things unfold in year two.

CATCHERS
Mike Piazza - B-
Mike struggled through what was probably the toughest season of his career, a season which was marred by the Groin injury he suffered May 16, which effectively knocked him out for 3 months, just as he was beginning to right himself from an awful April. He came back strong, but slumped mightily after the first week back, which leaves many of us to wonder when he'll break that godforsaken Catching HR record and finally move to 1B so all this nonsense can be put to rest.

Vance Wilson - B
Vance was having his usual stellar backup catcher season until Piazza's injury thrust him into a starting role, where he continued to be a defensive master, but also demonstrated that he probably won't generate enough offense to be an everyday player. Nonetheless, he's an absolute asset to the team in whatever role, and could have some trade value should the Mets decide not to keep him on. (This supposed trade value currently leaves the Mets with Luis Ayala. Wilson is out of the Majors. Was I right?)

Joe DiPastino - Remember him? 2 at-bats in Houston. Went back to the Minors where he will probably never be heard from again.

INFIELDERS
Mo Vaughn - F
Oh, that F could stand for so many things. Perhaps for how FAT he is, or how he somehow FAKED us into believing he had lost all that weight over the offseason. Or for how FOOLISH we all were for believing it. What a PH(F)ONEY. Maybe it is for the $18 million FLOP he was since joining the Mets. Oh, wait, I have it. It's for how FUN the team became to watch once he was FORCED out of the lineup with his knee, and spared us another season of him FUMBLING ground balls and FLAILING at pitches.

Jason Phillips - A
As bad as Vaughn was, that's how good Phillips was once he took over the 1B spot in early May. Phillips was a revelation with the bat, and in the field, despite the fact that he'd never played 1B before this season (Got that, Piazza?). We knew he could hit, something he'd demonstrated in several September callups, but finally given the chance to demonstrate it on a regular basis, he hit, and then began to hit with more power and drive in runs, and continue to hit, keeping his average over .300 for most of the season. Has to be considered a large part of the Mets future, although one question is that if he is going to Catch full time, will his offensive numbers suffer? Still, a bright prospect, a bona fide Rookie Of The Year candidate and you gotta love those goggles, perhaps an homage to the great Chris Sabo. (That's a good indicator of how bad things were: Somehow, Jason Phillips was a savior.)

Tony Clark - B+
Tony demonstrated that he will probably never hit enough to merit being a regular again, but he had plenty of pop off the bench. 16 HRs in about 200-250 ABs ain't too shabby. I'd like to see him take over that Mark Carreon/Matt Franco role of key Pinch Hitter.

Roberto Alomar - Q
Yes, I am giving Roberto "Bobby Bonilla Reincarnated" Alomar a Q, because an F simply isn't a poor enough grade. I once again cannot say how happy I am to have this absolute doofus off of my team and out of my life. No more head-first slides into 1st base, no more lollygagging after ground balls, no more bunting with a 1-2 count and 2 outs with runners on the corners, NO MORE! The White Sox can go win the World Series with him for all I care. All that matters to me is that this complacent, overratted joke of a ballplayer and a human being is not a New York Met. Good Riddance! (I spent the better part of the 2003 season sending around Joe Benigno-esque rants about trading Alomar for a bag of balls. That's about what the Mets got for him.)

Joe McEwing - C+
Joe again hustled and played his heart out all season, and again suffered through some mighty slumps, and worked his way through it, re-modeling his batting stance so that you don't even know it's him batting anymore. Still a class guy and a fan favorite, and no better 25th man for this team.

Rey Sanchez - C
Basically an indistinguishable season for Rey, who continued the streak of Opening Day SS named Rey, and I think he did a pretty good offensive impression of Ordonez, as he was hitting something like .210 once he was dealt. But he was, basically, signed as a one-season stopgap anyway so nobody really expected that much.

Danny Garcia - Too soon to give him a grade, however he rocketed from AA to the Majors this season, and despite some early struggles, looks like he has the talent to hack it at the Major League level. Merits a long look next season.

Marco Scutaro - B
Didn't play the OF, didn't misplay any key fly balls, that's a plus, right? Marco also showed some surprise pop too. Fringe player who can't really be expected to be any better or worse than he already is. Not a lock for the future.

Jay Bell - C-
Jay's last hurrah saw him playing all over the infield and manage to hit about .180 with an OBA of around .370. That's some walks there! (Bell actually hit .181 with an OBA of .319. He had 22 walks and 21 hits for the season.)

Jose Reyes - A-
Not bad for a 20-year old, huh? Jose burst onto the scene in June as perhaps the most ballyhooed prospect to come out of the Mets system since Darryl Strawberry. Struggled at first. Looked a little overmatched. He did belt a grand slam in Anaheim, for his first ML HR and RBIs. But he kept playing, stuck it out and eventually, the hits began to fall, and fall in bunches. The steals kept coming and the power flashed a little as well. And some nice defense too (almost good enough to make everyone forget Bozo Ordonez). By the time a sprained ankle (and thank god it was no worse) ended his season August 31, Jose had proved many things. He was indeed ready to come to the majors. He showed everyone why he was regarded as the Best Prospect in Baseball. He showed Mets fans who the starting SS will be for the next Decade or two. And he proved what a huge sparkplug he is to the team, as the Mets went into another tailspin without him in the lineup in September. Maybe he will never develop Soriano-like power and hit 30 HRs, he still stands to be as good, and have as much, if not more, of an impact on his team than Soriano. Right now, I wouldn't deal this guy for ANYONE, and that includes Mr. Rodriguez in Texas. Given the future Jose Reyes has, can you blame me? (This is a really good indicator of how bad things were. There was some talk within my circle of dealing Reyes after '03, and who would be worth giving him up for. I viewed Reyes as such an untouchable, that perhaps I was a little overzealous in considering him on par with A-Rod. Then again, given the way the past 5 seasons have played out, it does seem a little 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.)

Ty Wigginton - B+
Boy, how can you not root for this guy! Proved that he can field in the Majors, and eventually became very solid with the glove at 3B. Hit, and showed some pop, despite a long midseason slump. Bowled over several catchers, and played the game with a general Football mentality. And, of course, he's another one of my boys from Binghamton (Phillips). 20-25 HRs and 80-90 RBI seems like a real possibility once he becomes more seasoned in the majors. (Believe it or not, I had heard the name David Wright before 2003. However, he wasn't exactly on the radar screen as he performed only middling in High-A ball in '03. Nobody expected him to rocket to the Majors like he did in '04, and once that happened, Wigginton was expendable.)

Jorge Velandia - After several years of September callups, Jorge Velandia finally broke that 5-year hitless streak and laced his first hit as a Met on September 3rd. Congratulations, Jorge!

OUTFIELDERS
Cliff Floyd - A
Perhaps this grade is a bit high, but Floyd played it out on one leg all season, until he finally bowed out for surgery in August, and when he was about to shut it down, he played as if there was no pain at all. He'll be healthy and hungry by next season, and there's no reason why he shouldn't have a huge season. A gritty, gutty team player, and I'm proud to have a guy like him on this team.

Roger CedeƱo - D
Once again, Roger bumbled his way through most of the first half of the season, didn't get on base, didn't play good defense, didn't steal bases, and finally was benched until a thin OF forced him back in once the team was hopelessly out of the race, and of course, he started to hit just as he did last season. Another overpaid fool I can do without.

Jeromy Burnitz - B+
Jeromy, before being dealt to the Sad Dodgers and basically falling into the offensive vortex that is Chavez Ravine, won back everyone who had written him off following his miserable 2002, and re-gained his power stroke. Was dealt, basically, because of his desire to return to California via Free Agency this offseason, and to not let him just walk away. Nonetheless, he was the only major flop of the previous season to show any of us that that was an anomaly, and not the real Jeromy Burnitz. (No, that probably was the real Jeromy Burnitz, now that I think about it.)

Jeff Duncan - C+
Made the jump from AA to the Majors a few times this season. Started out like a house afire but then the pitching caught up with him, he slumped, lost confidence and the outs piled up. Very fast, though, and played some nice defense. Could be better with some more seasoning in AAA. (More wishful thinking. Apparently, I considered anyone under age 25 a blessing at this point.)

Timo Perez - C
Timo didn't really impress anyone this season, not like last year when he had several clutch hits. (Do you remember these clutch hits? Me either.) Missed a good chunk of time with injuries and was also buried behind Outfielders who were as mediocre, but made more money, than he did. Bench player for the future, with some spot starts.

Raul Gonzalez - D
Whatever he did or didn't do this season, I will always remember him for belting a 2-run double in the comeback vs the Yanks, and then managing to get himself thrown out between 2nd and 3rd, thus lynching the comeback and allowing us to be swept by Yankee-doos.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo - F
Poor Shinjo lost it the 2nd time around. He didn't play enough, when he did, he never hit, didn't display any of the flair and clutch performances of 2001. Was eventually sent to the minors because nobody else would take him. (And subsequently sent back to Japan to do underwear ads.)

Prentice Redman - Hit his 1st ML HR off Mesa in Philly, tying a game in the 9th. Has some pop, some speed, and perhaps a bright future ahead? (Any negative comments in regards to this statement are well-deserved.)

PITCHERS
Tom Glavine - F
Yeah, we all had our reservations about him. Too old, Former Met killer, Ex- Brave...And, really, he still killed the Mets, didn't he? Right from that 4-run 1st inning in the Opener vs. Chicago. 2nd half surge or not, Glavine flat out blew when it counted. I hope, and I mean I really HOPE, that this was simply due to jitters from new surroundings. 0-4 vs Atlanta? That had better not happen again.

Al Leiter - C+
Al, unlike Mo-jumbo, actually did lose some weight this season, during a stay on the DL for a balky knee, and it helped him greatly, as he became a much better pitcher once he returned. However, the Al of the 1st half of the season was quite mediocre, and he has to shoulder part of the blame for the Mets miserable early showing. He's also probably very close to the end of the line, he's signed through next season and has intimated that this would be his last contract. After that, say hello to future NJ State Senator Al Leiter (R).

Steve Trachsel - A-
It was a rough year for the Mets. But don't blame Steve Trachsel. Resigned in the 11th hour, Steve responded with a career year of sorts, outpitching some pitchers with bigger contracts and better reputations. He was, without a doubt, the most consistent starter on the staff all season, and even threw 2 one-hit games. He even pitched well in his losses, many of those coming when the team couldn't score him any runs. Not bad, huh? It's been said (mainly by Gabe) that he really isn't that good, is pitching over his head and should be dealt while his value is high. Perhaps this is a valid argument. He probably won't duplicate this season again, but think about this: Trachsel's 1st half of his 2001 season was beyond pathetic before he was sent to the Minors to retool. Since he has returned, he has been an absolutely rock solid bottom end of the rotation pitcher. Never spectacular, but always consistent, and he has won games. Perhaps the Mets should deal him, but I'd like to keep him around, as I think he will continue to be a valuable 3rd or 4th starter. (Steve Trachsel was the Mets best starter in 2003. That's a good indicator of a 66-win team.)

Jae Seo - B-
Aside from Trachsel, Seo was probably the Mets 2nd most consistent pitcher for the season. Problem is, he was consistently both good and horrid. From Late May - mid June, Seo was lights out, then struggled through July, and got hot again in August. In his better moments, though, he showed some real guts and got himself out of some big jams against good lineups (see June 6, vs Seattle). Seo, I believe, has done enough to earn a spot in the rotation for next season, and I think he can improve on what he has already done. Again, like Trachsel, I'd count on him to be a solid 3rd or 4th starter. (Or not.)

David Cone - B+
Gets this high of a grade simply for proving he could take a year off and come back at age 40, and win his 1st start back. Unfortunately, his comeback was curtailed by injuries, and he finally decided to hang it up for good. It was nice to see Cone back in a Mets uniform, though, and that he was able to retire with the team with which he first tasted success. Next stop, Cooperstown?

Aaron Heilman - C-
Heilman debuted in June with about as much fanfare as Reyes, but it became clear rather shortly therafter that he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. He was dreadfully inconsistent, constantly worked from behind and also took several shellings before losing his spot in the rotation and basically left to sit out the last month of the season. He's had time to prove himself in the minors, and I'm not quite sure if more time would help him, or he's just never going to be as good as he was touted to be.

Jeremy Griffiths - B-
Griffiths season rather mirrored that of Jerrod Riggan in 2001. Griffiths made his debut out of the bullpen, straight from Binghamton, complete with the deer in the headlights look, took a few shellings, and went back. Returned in August, and was much better, even winning his 1st game in a start vs. St. Louis. Also pitched real well against Atlanta and Philadelphia. He did fizzle out a little bit after that with some poor outings, but he's another one with a lot of guts, and a lot of toughness, and some really good stuff too. I'd like to see what he could do with a full season in the Majors. Perhaps, just perhaps, he has the stuff to turn into the front-end of the rotation guy that Heilman was hyped to be.

Pedro Astacio - F
Vanished.

Scott Strickland - C-
Missed most of the season following Tommy John surgery, which was probably why he wasn't very good before he went down.

Pedro Feliciano - C+
Solid long relief man out of the bullpen, however got lost in the shuffle and hardly ever got used, to the point where I forgot he was even on the team. (Oddly, Feliciano is the longest-tenured Met, even if his tenure is non-consecutive. He went from lousy to good and back to lousy in 7 seasons, so I guess he's really come full circle)

Armando Benitez - Z
Well, if Alomar gets a Q, Benitez certainly deserves worse, right? Well, can't get much worse than a Z, although maybe a ZZ would do him more justice. It was bad enough when he blew key games against the Yankoos and Atlanta, bad enough to blow games to Arizona, but when he started blowing games against Houston, Milwaukee, San Diego, etc and in APRIL? Man, I couldn't wait to have this 10-cent wonder off the team. Shipped to the Yonkees, where he promptly blew several more games for them (scant consolation) before being shipped to Seattle. A Free Agent following this season. Who would want him? (I know! I know! San Francisco!)

Graeme Lloyd - C-
Will probably only be remembered as the 2nd Australian-born player in Mets history, and may not even be remembered for that much.

John Franco - A
Like Cone, Johnny gets an A solely for being able to come back from Tommy John surgery and pitch tolerably well at age 207. And he'll probably keep pitching until he can't anymore. Johnny is truly a Met Lifer, and, for better or worse, he's got to be a Met as long as he is still pitching. (I'm not sure where I was going with this overly sentimental crap. I can't say I ever had much of a soft spot for Franco, but it was nice that he was able to come back after the surgery)

Grant Roberts - B-
Grant now finds his career at a crossroads. This could have been the season where he took off, and became an ace reliever. Problem is, he's now officially got the dreaded INJURY PRONE tag as he missed half the season with shoulder tendonitis. And he can't be counted on as an ace reliever because his arm doesn't bounce back enough to pitch every day. Which is an outright shame because, when he does pitch, he's brilliant. So what is to be done with Grant? Starter? Perhaps it's his best option. WE shall see... (Yeah, no we won't. My guess is he's back in Binghamton smoking grass, which is about all there is to do in Binghamton.)

David Weathers - C+
Stormy Weathers indeed. Has to have done the best job of keeping his ass mostly out of the fire despite an opponent's 1st batter faced BA of .973.

Dan Wheeler - B-
Another solid though unspectacular reliever used mainly when the games didn't count. (I love how, after he left, he had some sporadic success with Houston and Tampa, and Mets fans were all up in arms because we dealt him away. It's easy to forget that he was patently awful when he was here, and had an ERA near 5 when he was dealt in '04.)

Mike Stanton - D
We're not in Yankeeland anymore, Toto.

Orber Moreno - Once again, we learn that Minor League hype does not equal Major League success.

Jaime Cerda - Line usually read like this: K, HR, K, HR, 6-3.

Mike Bacsik - Stunk in spring training and was promptly pushed into the collective unconscious of all Mets fans. (Before he became famous for allowing Bonds' 756th HR.)

Jason Middlebrook - Blah blah blah

Pat Strange - He is strange, isn't he?

Jason Roach - Blasted in one start in Anaheim. Stands to be as memorable as Brett Hinchcliffe.

Hector Almonte - Better to have him than friggin' Alomar.

Jason Anderson - Better to have him than friggin' Benitez.

So what do the Mets do this offseason. Well, this is Jim Duquette's first big test. Given the Mets history of high-priced Free Agent flops, does he go for Vladimir? Or does he go the Beltran route? A starter is certainly needed, Millwood anyone? The infield is going to be OK, with Piazza probably finally breaking that godforsaken HR record and mercifully moving to 1st, and hopefully Garcia will ascend and succeed at 2B. Reyes and Wigginton will anchor the left side. The OF is full of question marks, aside from Floyd in LF.

We learned, from 2002, that the best laid plans blah blah blah. We thought the Mets couldn't be much worse this year than last, and while the record will be worse, at least it wasn't with the same crew as last season. Yes, rebuilding is a bitch, especially with the Yahooees across town (Was I bitter towards the Yankees? Hell Yes! Everyone who wasn't a Yankee fan was sick of them at this point), and you don't want this to go on too much longer. The existing cast that will take the field next season is a promising group, and will hopefully continue to grow and band together. You can't ever know what will happen, but it looks like there will be better days ahead...

(It took a while, but, yes, things did get better. Thing is, by time they did, the only guys remaining from the 2003 Mets were Reyes, Heilman, Feliciano, Floyd, Trachsel and Glavine, and by Opening Day 2009, Reyes and Feliciano stand to be the only guys still on the team. '03 ended up not being the start of anything. If nothing else, this was probably Rock Bottom for the Mets. Man, there was a lot of crap on this team.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bang The Drum Slowly...

There were too many jokes that I thought of when I saw this photo. Here are a few:

- In exchange for this drum lesson, David Wright was going to show David Cook how to pull a baseball 350 feet foul with startling accuracy.

- I see David Wright brought his bats with him to the gala.

- Nice, but will David be able to keep a consistent rhythm with a runner on 3rd and no out in the last of the 9th?

Any other suggestions? Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hot Stove 101

I belong to a small Mets e-mail circle amongst some friends. During the season, it consists mainly of state of the team kind of missives fired at each other every few weeks. It's also where my annual Mets Report Card began, something I've continued at the current time. When I'm feeling salty (or uninspired), I may post a previous year's report card just for shits and giggles, but that's neither here nor there.

At any rate, with the offseason in full swing, I've found myself deluged with e-mails suggesting different ways the Mets can improve themselves. Now, I should mention that, along with myself, the major contributors to this circle are as follows:

Subject A: Likes to kick off debates by suggesting a barrage of moves, each one resulting from the previous, as if a chain reaction.

Subject B: Disagrees with everything. Way too into Sabermetrics. Also was way to into Benny Agbayani and, after him, Timo Perez.

Subject C: Has been saying the Mets "Need to go young" for the past decade.

Subject D: Just the facts, please (This is me).

There are also some lesser figures in this circle, who often remain sideline to these debates, which, believe me, can become long winded. Hot Stove Baseball simply does not exist without a week-long string borne out of the suggestion of a series of ridiculous trades that wouldn't ever happen, and such a string began this past weekend, meaning that it's officially Hot Stove time.

Now, bear in mind that I don't quite understand the thought process that goes into these deals, but Subject A kicked things off by suggesting the following:

1) "Trade Delgado to the Angels for Justin Speier, Erick Aybar, and a player to be named. The PTBN should be a minor league hitter with on-base skills and poor athleticism -- an A's kind of layer, not an Angels kind of player."

2) "Trade Scott Schoeneweis, Luis Castillo and cash to the Diamondbacks for Chad Tracy. (They don't need Tracy, he'll cost them $5 mil, and they need a 2B and 'pen lefty. Veterans may also appeal to them. We'll eat some of Castillo's contract.)"

3) "Trade Aaron Heilman, Eddie Kunz, and the PTBN to Oakland for Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer."

Within minutes, my BlackBerry was abuzz with riotous discussion, where Subject B was advocating that Subject A be fed to the wolves while the Mets deal for JJ Putz, sign Chad Cordero, trade for Javier Vazquez and sign Bobby Abreu to play LF. Subject C blasts this as utter insanity, as Daniel Murphy needs to play, and needs to play 150 games wherever he ends up playing, be it against RHP or LHP. He figures this to be in LF, since there was a minor blurb on Rotoworld stating that Murphy's defense at 2B in the Arizona Fall League was "Less than Stellar."

I decide it's time for me to chime in. I read on Rotoworld (and you can read the same thing on your lower right hand side) that a deal with Tampa involving Aaron Heilman for Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson was in the works. I figure this should throw a nice curveball into the discussion.

Subject A is still stuck on this supposed deal for Duchscherer. By Monday afternoon, the Matt Holliday deal has been made, meaning Oakland has sufficiently gutted its pitching staff to make a Duchscherer deal make even less sense for them. Knowing he's finally beat on this end, he decides to come completely out of left field and suggest that the Mets go after Trevor Hoffman. Trevor Hoffman! A 41-year old Closer who displayed frightening inconsistency and is showing signs of wear after a 17-year career. This as a potential alternative should talks with Brian Fuentes go sour.

This is one of those suggestions that makes me crazy, since I believe that the Mets have erred the past few seasons in relying too heavily on older players. I state that the only advantage to having Hoffman on the team is that the fans will get really fired up when they play AC/DC every 9th inning when Hoffman comes into the game.

Nobody agrees with me. Only Subject B seems to be even somewhat against the move, reluctantly agreeing that "Cheap and short-term sounds good to me." He then immediately jumps back to Murphy playing 2B, and that even if his defense is barely passable, he should get a shot at 2B. It's not, he states, as though Murphy is a natural in LF. Subject A agrees, and tosses Rickie Weeks into the mix, inferring that the Brewers "may be fed up" with him. Everyone agrees that this would be a great move, assuming that the Brewers could be suckered into Heilman. Stranger things have happened; they did take Guillermo Mota off our hands last year.

Since Subject A's suggestion of Weeks went over so well, he's feeling good, so he decides to toss Milton Bradley's name out there as a solution in LF. Subject C would love to roll the dice on Bradley, headcase be damned. Subject B, however, is wholeheartedly against the move. Subject B isn't a fan of the dreaded "clubhouse cancer," despite the fact that Bradley had no problems in Texas. He quickly compares Bradley to the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and Bret Saberhagen. As if to dangle a carrot in front of Subject B's face, Subject C slyly remarks that none of those guys led the league in OPS the previous season. OPS being the magic word, the one that makes Subject B drool and Subject D want to kick him in the teeth.

On that note, the entire discussion takes a brief hiatus for the night. We have to sleep sometime, don't we?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Could Be Worse...


...We could be the Florida Marlins.

The past two seasons, the Florida Marlins have shown signs that they're about to turn the corner and go on one of their improbable runs a la 2003. Unlike the Mets, who seemed to have a reliance on aging veterans, the Marlins were a young team, built mostly out of the prospects received in trades when some of their young stars became to expensive to retain. It was unfortunate, and rather embarrassing, that the Marlins weren't able to keep their championship team of 2003 together for a longer period of time, but, so be it. It's hard to get too broken up about a team in your own division that can't seem to build upon anything they do.

Such is the case once again. Last November, I picked the Marlins to make a major step forward, contend with the Mets and hop over Philly to win the NL Wildcard in 2008. About 3 weeks later, the Marlins dealt their best hitter and, arguably, their best pitcher, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers for a roster's worth of Minor League talent, very few of whom played a role with the team in '08.

The 2008 Marlins again hung tough, and were right there with the Mets and Philly before fading down the stretch. This young team was becoming a cohesive unit, with guys like Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham and Hanley Ramirez finding themselves, and a young pitching staff that was rapidly improving. After the Marlins successfully kicked the Mets in the nuts the final weekend of the season, I figured, once again, that the Marlins would continue to get better and more than likely pass the Mets in 2009, unless the Mets did something major.

Instead, the Marlins are breaking themselves up again. It was one thing when Mike Jacobs was quietly dealt to Kansas City for a pitching prospect. Odd, yes, but Jacobs was due a big raise in Arbitration, and with players like Dallas McPherson and Jorge Cantu clogging up the infield, Jacobs was certainly an expendable commidity. But last night, the Marlins did it again, dealing streaky outfielder Josh Willingham and talented headcase Scott Olsen to the Washington Nationals, again for a package of Minor Leaguers headlined by 2Bman Emilio Bonifacio, which would lead you to believe that a deal involving Dan Uggla is imminent.

So much for the Marlins moving forward. Right now, the best they can hope for is to stand still. Many of the pitchers and the spare pieces remain, but who knows who else is going to be dealt? Ramirez is certainly safe as he's under a long-term contract. But other young pitchers such as Anibal Sanchez or Josh Johnson could be moved as well, interesting from a team that was planning to increase their spending. They're looking at plugging these holes with prospects and raw talent that may or may not be ready yet. Certainly, the "core"of the Marlins team had done that after being mostly thrown together in 2006. Again, I'm not complaining.

On the other side, the Nationals should certainly benefit from having Willingham and Olsen around, but this deal isn't going to suddenly turn the Nationals into contenders. In an outfield that's already clogged up by Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes (Bitch!), Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, Willingham becomes, quite possibly, the best of the bunch. On a pitching staff that was headlined by Odalis Perez and a random mishmash of awful, the sweaty (though I figure he won't sweat as much in Washington as he did in Florida), drunken Scott Olsen all of a sudden is the best pitcher on that team. This trade should improve the Nationals, and perhaps the Nats were only a player or two away from contending, but I don't think it was these two players. They've still got a lot of holes. By dealing a pair of their more talented guys to a team mostly devoid of talent, the Marlins have made things a bit easier for the Mets and Philly. They probably won't be a major contender, just a pain in the ass like they usually are. Washington? Who knows.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ya Gotta Believe!

"Yes We Can!" was the rallying cry for Barack Obama throughout his campaign. But it could just as easily have been that familiar refrain originally coined by Tug McGraw. In 1973, it was 25 men rallying together, and riding their belief all the way to the World Series.

35 years later, over 50 million Americans believed in Barack Obama, and he rode that wave to an overwhelming and historic victory in Tuesday's Presidential election. 50 million Americans beleived in Change, a new Attitude and new Ideas. 50 million people examined the two candidates and they believed Barack Obama was the better man.

And because so many of us believed, this morning, we can now believe in a new day and a new direction for our country.